The Highest Prices Ever Paid For Paintings, Ranked
The prices people paid for these paintings is unbelievable. Art, specifically painting, has been an important part of human civilization for over 30,000 years, starting with our ancient ancestors depicting life on cave walls. But since then, it has become much more of a commodity, and even a sign of wealth and class, causing prices to skyrocket beyond what anyone back then could’ve possibly imagined. This article will rank some of the most expensive paintings ever sold. Stick around to see how many hundreds of millions of dollars someone paid for da Vinci’s painting above…
All of the sales discussed here happened over the last few decades, and most, if not all, of the paintings in this article are considered old master works, having been done before the 1800s. Even the more recent paintings on this list still date back to at least a century ago. But before we rank the sales, let’s look at the two artists who have the most paintings featured. It’s no surprise that they are Picasso and van Gogh, but what’s shocking is that the latter only sold one painting, seen above, for just $2,000, while he was still alive…
Pablo Picasso is the most prominent painter featured in this article, with the highest number of paintings sold for some of the highest prices in history. He was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright, but is definitely best known for his amazing paintings. Beyond those, he is also responsible for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of constructed sculpture, the co-invention of collage, and for the wide variety of styles that he helped develop and explore. He was very prolific throughout his life and earned universal appreciation as one of the best-known figures in 20th-century art.
His work can be categorized into periods. The names of his later periods are debated, but the most prominent of his early periods are the Blue Period, from 1901-1904, the Rose Period, from 1904-1906, the African-influence Period, from 1907-1909, Analytic Cubism, from 1909-1912, and Synthetic Cubism, also known as the Crystal Period, from 1912-1919. From then on he worked mostly in a neoclassical style and Surrealism, while his later work combined elements of his earlier styles. Unlike this next artist, mentioned before, Picasso also saw wealth while he was still alive…
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who was only an active artist for a decade. But in that time, he created over 2,000 works, including 860 oil paintings, most of which were done in the last two years of his life. From landscapes, still lifes, portraits and self-portraits, his paintings used bold colors and daring brushwork to help contribute to the foundations of modern art. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, they weren’t appreciated while he was still alive…
Van Gogh committed suicide at 37 after years of mental illness and poverty. Before he became a professional artist, he worked as an art dealer and even spent time as a Protestant missionary. But depression led him to paint, starting back home but eventually taking him to Paris where he met members of the avant-garde who were reacting against the Impressionist sensibility. This influenced him greatly and his style developed over the next couple years, but so did his psychosis. One of the most famous episodes saw him cutting off part of his own ear.
Portrait of a Halberdier – $60.9 Million
Pontormo’s Portrait of a Halberdier from 1537 sold for $35.2 million back in 1989. The adjusted price brings that up to almost double, at $60.9 million today. It was sold by Chauncey Stillman to the Getty Museum at Christie’s auction house in New York. Pontormo, also known as Jacopo da Pontormo, was an Italian Mannerist painter and portraitist. The painting is oil on panel transferred to canvas and depicts an armed foot soldier standing before a fortress wall.
Nature morte – $63.2 Million
Vincent van Gogh’s Nature morte, Vase aux marguerites et coquelicots, or Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies, from 1890 sold for $61.8 million back in 2014, which would be $63.2 million today. Details of the sale, like the buyer and seller, are unknown, but the staggering transaction took place at Sotheby’s auction house in New York. The painting, which is rather small at 26 x 20.1 inches, is oil on canvas.
Spring (Le Printemps) – $66.7 Million
Édouard Manet’s Spring (Le Printemps) from 1881 sold for $65.1 million back in 2014, which would be $66.7 million today. Its seller is unknown, but the painting is the second so far on the list to be purchased by the Getty Museum from Christie’s auction house in New York. Its French painter was one of the first artists to depict modern life and was pivotal in the transition from Realism to Impressionism.
Zhichuan Resettlement – $67 Million
Wang Meng’s Zhichuan Resettlement from 1350 sold for $62.1 million back in 2011, which would be $67 million today. It’s another piece whose buyer and seller were kept private, but the sale was done at the Beijing Poly Auction. Wang Meng was a Chinese painter during the Yuan Dynasty, and is considered one of its Four Masters. He worked on paper instead of silk and almost exclusively painted landscapes.
L’Allée des Alyscamps – $67.2 Million
Vincent van Gogh’s L’Allée des Alyscamps, or The Alley of the Alyscamps, from 1888 sold for $66.3 million back in 2015, which would be $67.2 million today. Its buyer and seller were kept private, but the sale took place at Sotheby’s auction house in New York. The painting was part of a pair that depicts autumnal scenes in the Alyscamps, an ancient Roman necropolis in Arles which is lined with poplars and stone sarcophagi.
Peasant Woman – $67.8 Million
Van Gogh’s Peasant Woman Against a Background of Wheat from 1890 sold for $47.5 million back in 1997, which would be $67.8 million today. Its seller is unknown, but it was bought by renowned art collected Steve Wynn, who is also a real estate businessman. Van Gogh did several versions of this painting, which was done in a Symbolist style with such thick paint it can almost look three-dimensional.
Au Lapin Agile – $70.4 Million
Picasso’s Au Lapin Agile, or In The Agile Rabbit, from 1904 sold for $40.7 million back in 1989, which would be $70.4 million today. It was sold by the daughter of Joan Whitney Payson, a prominent art collector, to Walter H. Annenberg at Sotheby’s auction house in New York. In the oil painting, which currently resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the harlequin is a self-portrait of the artist and the woman represents his lover Germaine Pichot.
Eagle Standing on Pine Tree – $70.6 Million
Qi Baishi’s Eagle Standing on Pine Tree from 1946 sold for $65.5 million back in 2011, which would be $70.6 million today. It was sold by Liu Yiqian, a billionaire investor, to the Hunan TV & Broadcast Intermediary Co. at China Guardian Auctions. Qi Baishi was a Chinese painter, noted for the whimsical, often playful style of his watercolor works. The painting is a hanging scroll and was done with ink on paper.
Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers – $73.8 Million
Van Gogh’s Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers from 1888 was sold for $39.7 million back in 1987, which would be $73.8 million today. It was sold by Helen Beatty, daughter-in-law of Chester Beatty, an uber-successful businessman, to a Japanese life insurance company at Christie’s auction house in London. The painting was one of a series of pieces depicting sunflowers that includes over a dozen variations.
Femme aux Bras Croisés – $74.8 Million
Picasso’s Femme aux Bras Croisés, or Woman with crossed arms, from 1902 sold for $55 million back in 2000, which would be $74.8 million today. It was sold by Chicago’s McCormick family to a private buyer at Christie’s auction house in New York. The painting was done during his Blue Period, with an unknown subject who may have been an inmate of the Saint-Lazare hospital-prison in Paris.
The Gross Clinic – $77.8 Million
Thomas Eakins’ The Gross Clinic from 1875 sold for $68 million back in 2007, which would be $77.8 million today. It was sold by Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Thomas Jefferson University to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at a private sale. Eakins was an American realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator. The painting, which depicts a lecture at Jefferson Medical College, is considered one of the best American paintings ever made.
Darmstadt Madonna – $81 Million
Hans Holbein’s Darmstadt Madonna from 1526 sold for $75 million back in 2011, which would be $81 million today. It was sold by Donatus, Prince and Landgrave of Hesse, to Reinhold Würth, a German businessman and art collector, at a private sale via Christoph Graf Douglas. Hans Holbein was a German artist and printmaker who worked in a Northern Renaissance style. The oil painting shows a group of high society members gathered around the Madonna and infant Jesus.
Laboureur dans un champ – $81.3 Million
Van Gogh’s Laboureur dans un champ, or Farmer in a field, from 1889 sold for $81.3 million just last year. It was sold by the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass estate to an unknown buyer at Christie’s auction house in New York. The painting is a part of his Wheat Field series, which features dozens of pieces, that combined his religious studies, connection to nature and appreciation of manual laborers.
Meule – $81.4 Million
Claude Monet’s Meule, or Millstone, from 1891 sold for $81.4 million back in 2016. Its seller and buyer are unknown, but the sale was done at Christie’s auction house in New York. Monet was a founder of French Impressionist painting. Meule was a part of his Haystacks series, which features 25 canvas paintings that Monet began near the end of the summer of 1890 and continued through the following spring.
Yo, Picasso – $82.8 Million
Picasso’s Yo, Picasso from 1901 sold for $47.8 million back in 1989, which would be $82.8 million today. It was sold by Wendell Cherry, a prominent art collector, to Stavros Niarchos, a multi-billionaire Greek shipping tycoon, at Sotheby’s auction house in New York. The oil on canvas painting was a part of his Blue Period and in 2013 was exhibited at the Courtauld Gallery in London.
Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier – $84.2 Million
Paul Cézanne’s Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier from 1894 sold for $60.5 million back in 1999, which would be $84.2 million today. It was sold to an unknown buyer at Sotheby’s auction house in New York by the Whitney Family. Jock Whitney was president of the Museum of Modern Art. Cézanne was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter, and this piece is a still life that’s considered the most expensive of its kind ever sold at an auction.
Nymphéas en fleur – $84.7 Million
Claude Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur, or Waterlilies in bloom, from somewhere between 1914 and 1917 sold for $84.7 this year. It was sold by David and Peggy Rockefeller, of the famous banking family, to an unidentified buyer at Christie’s auction house in New York. The oil on canvas painting was inspired by Monet’s beloved garden of Giverny in France, which was often a subject of his work.
Les Noces de Pierrette – $85.3 Million
Picasso’s Les Noces de Pierrette, or The Wedding of Pierrette, from 1905 sold for $49.3 million back in 1989, which would be $85.3 million today. It was sold by Fredrik Roos, a Swedish art collector, to Tomonori Tsurumaki, a Japanese art collector, at Binoche et Godeau auction house in Paris. The painting belongs chronologically to Picasso’s Rose Period, but is more artistically characteristic of the Blue Period.
Suprematist Composition – $85.8 Million
Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition from 1916 sold for $85.8 million this year. It was part of an anonymous sale, with both an unknown buyer and seller, at Christie’s auction house in New York. Malevich was a Russian avant-garde artist and art theorist. Suprematist Composition, which represents a constellation of geometry and color in space with remarkable austerity, is the most expensive work in the history of Russian art.
A Wheatfield with Cypresses – $87.9 Million
Van Gogh’s A Wheatfield with Cypresses from 1889 sold for $57 million back in 1993, which would be $87.9 million today. It was sold by the son of Emil Georg Bührle, a famous art collector, to Walter H. Annenberg, an American businessman, investor, philanthropist, and diplomat, at a private sale via Steven Mazoh. The painting, which is sometimes called A Cornfield with Cypresses, was part of his wheat field series.
Portrait of Alfonso d’Avalos – $89.9 Million
Titian’s Portrait of Alfonso d’Avalos, Marquis of Vasto, in Armor with a Page from 1533 sold for $70 million back in 2003, which would be $89.9 million today. It was sold by the AXA insurance company to the aforementioned Getty Museum in a private sale via Hervé Aaron. Titian, or Tiziano Vecellio, was an Italian painter and the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school.
Le Bassin aux Nymphéas – $90.4 Million
Monet’s Le Bassin aux Nymphéas, or Water Lily Pond, from 1919 sold for $80.5 million back in 2008, which would be $90.4 million today. It was sold by J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller to an unknown buyer at Christie’s auction house in London. The oil on canvas painting is one of the French impressionist’s Water Lilies series.
Irises – $100.3 Million
Van Gogh’s Irises from 1889 sold for $76.7 million back in 1987, which would be $100.3 million today. It was sold by the son of Joan Whitney Payson, an American art collector, to Alan Bond, an Australian businessman, at Sotheby’s auction house in New York. Irises is one of van Gogh’s several paintings of irises and one of a series done at the Saint Paul-de-Mausole asylum in France in the last year before his death in 1890.
Massacre of the Innocents – $100.5 Million
Peter Paul Rubens’ Massacre of the Innocents from 1611 sold for $76.7 million back in 2002, which would be $100.5 million today. It was sold by an Austrian family to Kenneth Thomson, a Canadian businessman and art collector, at Sotheby’s auction house in London. Sir Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish artist who is considered the most influential of the Flemish Baroque tradition. The painting depicts the biblical episode that took place at Bethlehem.
Portrait de l’artiste sans barbe – $101 Million
Van Gogh’s Portrait de l’artiste sans barbe, or Portrait of beardless artist, from 1889 was sold for $71.5 million back in 1998, which would be $101 million today. It was sold by the heirs of Jacques Koerfer, a German businessman and art collector, to an unknown buyer at Christie’s auction house in New York. The painting is possibly the last self portrait of the artist and was given to his mother as a birthday gift.
Portrait of Joseph Roulin – $103.8 Million
Van Gogh’s Portrait of Joseph Roulin from 1889 sold for $58 million back in 1989, which would be $103.8 million today. It was sold from a private collection out of Zürich to New York’s Museum of Modern Art in a private sale via Thomas Ammann of Fine Art Zurich. The painting is part of a group of portraits of the Roulin Family done during his time in Arles.
La Montagne Sainte-Victoire – $104 Million
Paul Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue du bosquet du Château Noir, or The Sainte-Victoire Mountain seen from the Château Noir grove, from 1904 sold for $100 million back in 2013, which would be $104 million today. It was sold by Edsel and Eleanor Ford House to the State of Qatar in a private sale. The painting is a late landscape by Cézanne, who was seen earlier in this list.
The Scream – $127 Million
Edvard Munch’s The Scream from 1895 sold for $119.9 million back in 2012, which would be $127 million today. It was sold by Petter Olsen, a Norwegian businessman, to Leon Black, an American investor and art collector, at Sotheby’s auction house in New York. Munch was a Norwegian painter and printmaker who was one of the main tenets of late 19th-century Symbolism, which greatly influenced German Expressionism. He called the painting The Scream of Nature.
Garçon à la pipe – $130.2 Million
Picasso’s Garçon à la pipe, or Boy with a pipe, from 1905 sold for $104.2 million back in 2004, which would be $130.2 million today. It was sold by the Greentree Foundation, which is run by the aforementioned Whitney family, to Guido Barilla, an Italian billionaire businessman, at Sotheby’s auction house in New York. The oil on canvas painting was done during his Rose Period soon after he settled in the Montmartre section of Paris.
Bal du moulin de la Galette – $130.3 Million
Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Bal du moulin de la Galette, or Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, from 1876 sold for $78.1 million back in 1990, which would be $130.3 million today. It was sold by Betsey Whitney, of the famous family that has appeared multiple times in this article, to Ryoei Saito at Sotheby’s auction house in New York. Renoir was a French artist who was a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style.
Portrait of Dr. Gachet – $137.7 Million
Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet from 1890 sold for $82.5 million back in 1990, which would be $137.7 million today. It was sold by the heirs of Siegfried Kramarsky, a German art collector, to Ryoei Saito at Christie’s auction house in New York. The piece is one of van Gogh’s most revered paintings and depicts the doctor who took care of him during the final months of his life.
Adele Bloch-Bauer II – $150 Million
Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II from 1912 sold for $150 million just a couple years ago. It was sold by the one and only Oprah Winfrey to an unidentified buyer in China at a private sale via Larry Gagosian, an Armenian American art dealer. Klimt was an Austrian symbolist painter, and this piece depicts the refined art-loving Viennese salon lady who was one of his close friends.
Adele Bloch-Bauer I – $158.7 Million
Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I from 1907 sold for $135 million back in 2006, which would be $158.7 million today. It was sold by Maria Altmann, an Austrian-American Jewish refugee from Austria, to Ronald Lauder and the Neue Galerie, a museum in New York, at a private sale via Christie’s. The painting, also known as The Lady in Gold or The Woman in Gold, was commissioned by her husband.
Pendant Portraits – $182 Million
Rembrandt’s Pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit from 1634 sold for $180 million back in 2015, which would be $182 million today. They were sold by Éric de Rothschild, a French banker and philanthropist, to the Rijksmuseum museum and the Louvre museum at a private sale. The oil on canvas paintings are full-length wedding portraits and two of the most expensive of Rembrandt’s works.
Nafea Faa Ipoipo – $210 Million
Paul Gauguin’s Nafea Faa Ipoipo, or When Will You Marry?, from 1892 was sold for $210 million back in 2014, which would be $213 million today. It was sold by heirs of Rudolf Staechelin, a Swiss businessman and art collector, to the State of Qatar in a private sale. Gauguin was a French post-Impressionist artist. The oil painting was done when he travelled to Tahiti to find “an edenic paradise where he could create pure, ‘primitive’ art.”
The Card Players – $270 Million
Paul Cézanne’s The Card Players from 1892/1893 was sold for $250 million back in 2011, which would be $270 million today. It was sold by George Embiricos, a Greek shipping magnate and art collector, to the State of Qatar in a private sale. The oil painting was done during his final period in the early 1890s and is one of five in a series, which all depict different players and settings.
Salvator Mundi – $450.3 Million
Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, or Savior of the World, from 1500 was sold for $450.3 million just last year. It was sold by Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian businessman, investor, and philanthropist, to the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture & Tourism at Christie’s auction house in New York. The work is a painting of Christ in Renaissance dress, giving a benediction, which is a short invocation for divine help, blessing and guidance.
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